Nice Face. Source: Miami Herald

The Rise and Fall Of Olli Jokinen



It was reported in the Globe and Mail last Friday that former Panther center and captain Olli Jokinen  who is a pending free agent this summer will be going to play for the KHL next season.  Olli who finished the season with the New York Rangers after being traded at the March deadline is not expected to be resigned by the Rangers.

Olli’s agent Todd Diamond said on Wednesday that Olli will play in the NHL and is denying any rumors of Jokinen going to Russia.  As usual,we’ll see how this develops over the summer.

 Seems that since Olli left the Panthers his career has been on a downward spiral and hasn’t stopped spinning.  Here’s a look at his career:

The 31 year old forward from Kuopio, Finland was drafted third overall in the 1997 NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings after having some pretty decent years in Finland.  Olli showed alot of promise, was a fairly big body and had a big, or should I say heavy shot that he wasn’t bashful about taking.  His first full season with the Kings Olli played in 66 games and had 21 points on nine goals and 12 assists.  He was a minus ten, a stat that has continued to plague him throughout his career.

In June of 1999 in a mega deal with the  New York Islanders,  the Kings sent Olli, Josh Green, Mathieu Biron, and a first round pick which ended up being Taylor Pyatt to the Isles for Ziggy Palffy, Bryan Smolinski, Marcel Cousineu and a fourth round pick which turned into Daniel Johansson.  Olli played in all 82 games that next season scroing 11 goals and getting 10 assists, again for 21 points.  His plus/minus however was even.

At the end of that first Islander season Mike Milburry, then GM of the Islanders felt he needed to draft goalie Rick DiPietro and was coerced into a trade with the Florida Panthers.  Probably one of the most lopsided deals for the Cats in their history that actually went their way.  Florida sent forward’s Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha to New York and received Jokinen and young goaltender Roberto Luongo in return.  Olli was beginning to lose his stock.  A  first round pick traded twice in his young career, and his stats were less than desirable.  His first two seasons in Florida the scenario continued.  While playing 78 and 80 games in his frist two seasons, Olli managed to score 15 goals and grab 30 assists.  He was also a combined minus 38. 

Midway in the 2001 season Mike Keenan was hired to coach the blundering and sputtering Panthers in hopes to not only change the lives and culture of the organEYEzation, but to make a bunch of boys become men while he was at it.  He had the effect on one player, as he usually does, and that player was Olli Jokinen.  Keenan eventually made Jokinen the team captain, gave him more ice time, let him play on both the penalty kill and power play, and also allowed him to take important faceoffs.  Olli responded to the pushing and proding and responsibility that Keenan gave him, and you actually saw his confidence level rise the more he played.  In Keenan’s first full season behind the bench in the 2002-2003 season Olli began the reach the expectations that were set for him, and scored 36 goals and had 29 assists.  He followed that season up in 2003-2004 with another solid campaign, getting 26 goals and 32 points. 

Keenan would not survive the 2003-2004 season as the Panthers organization felt that Keenan wasn’t the answer to straightening out this bumbling unit, therefore becoming the casualty of players that were just awful.  So, since it was easier to fire the coach, than trade the team, Keenan was let go.  After a bit of a revolving door in the Panthers management and coaching staff, when the lockout was finally settled,  Jacques Martin was hired as coach, and Keenan came back as GM.  Many felt that Olli’s production which had tailed off a bit, would now be restored with Keenan back in the organization.

Whether Iron Mike had an effect of not, Olli continued to improve his point totals.  His best Panther season was in 2006-2007 when he scored 39 goals and had 52 assists for 91 points, and was a plus 18.  The second year in a row that he was on the plus side.  The 2007-2008 season was another good one for Olli as his numbers were just as consistent by the end of the year.  The Panthers were actually in a playoff race and many felt that it was possible for them to make it.  And then it happened.

One night in Buffalo with the puck in the corner, Olli Jokinen’s skate cut the throat of Panther forward Richard Zednik in a freaky and accidental play, and that was it.  From that point on, Olli has never been the same.  Zednik who had the smarts to skate to the bench on his own was taken to hospital and fortunately lived.  However, Olli’s play the balance of the season was dreadful.  The Panthers missed the playoffs, Olli fueded with Uncle Jack, Keenan wasn’t around to offer support, and it boiled down to coach against captain.  I’m not getting into the reasons or excuses for the whole thing, but I think that Ollie got the short end of the stick.

One had to stay and the other had to leave.  Who would it be?  As it turned out, Uncle Jack was fired as coach, but hired to stay on as general manager for the Panthers.  Only in Florida would something like this happen.  Olli was traded to Phoenix at the 2008 draft for defencemen Keith Ballard, and Nick Boynton.  Boynton has since left the team after fueding with coach Peter DeBoer about playing time, and Ballard remains, becoming famous on You Tube  for his baseball swing to the head of goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Olli wasn’t a good fit in the desert and was later traded to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline in 2009.  Reunited with Keenan, Flames GM Darryl Sutter thought that Jokinen was the number one center that the Flames needed to go along with Jarome Iginla.  And he had hoped that Jokinen could find his magic again while playing for Mike.  Olli got off to a terrific start, but fizzled off.  He had his first playoff game experience with the Flames when they took on the San Jose Sharks but was a non factor.

Finally in 2009-2010 Olli continued his uninspirational hockey and muddled through the year and according to many sources became a bad influence in the Flames dressing room.  A story that has been reported by his past teams as well. He was traded again at the 2010 deadline to the New York Rangers, in the last year of a four year deal that he was signed to while in Florida.  For the tidy price of 5 million per.

In 26 games for the Rangers Olli scored 4 goals and had 11 assists.  Not the kind of production you expect from him and many thought that since was back in the Eastern Conference that his play and numbers would improve.  I saw Olli when the Rangers visited the Panthers shortly after the trade.  It was weird seeing him in that Ranger sweater.  He received a pretty warm welcome though as I think while many felt he should have been the one to go, I for one, and about everyone else who sits in my section felt it should have been Martin, but so it goes. 

I did notice this.  And I don’t knon how you can tell this from sitting in the stands, but Olli wasn’t the same.  Maybe he was nervous playing in front of the Panther crowd, maybe he was having nightmares of the losing seasons he went through as a player while he was there. I’m not sure, but all I know is, he just wasn’t the same.  And that’s too bad.  After finally getting success and recognition and scoring at a point per game pace, his career has fizzled.  If the rumor of him playing in the KHL is true, that’s too bad.  There’s probably alot about his career that we don’t know, and will never hear.  As I said earlier, the Richard Zednik incident was gruesome and scary.  Thankfully Zednik lived, and was able to come back and play the following season.

As for Jokinen, I think something in him died.

Regardless of where you play Olli, I hope you find your game. 

Thanks for reading.

Your comments are welcomed and appreciated.


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Tags: Florida Panthers Mike Keenan Jacques Martin Olli Jokinen Richard Zednik

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